August 28, 2019

Dear friends,

Thanks to wikipaella, I finally discovered why the paella I had in Spain wasn’t as good as the paella I make myself. It was a different animal. I vacationed in the far south of Spain with my mother more than a decade ago, and in that region the rice is infused with seafood but not showered with it.

Yes, there’s a wiki for paella. Check it out at wikipaella.com. If you click on “recetas,” you’ll see that some anal type surveyed 319 restaurants in the Valencia area of Spain, where the dish originated, and compiled a chart of common ingredients. Percentages are given for the prevalence of each ingredient in three types of authentic (autentica) paella.

In Valencia paella, the 100 percent must-haves are chicken, salt, tomato, rice, water, olive oil and saffron. Almost-100-percenters are rabbit, fava beans and smoked paprika. Other significant ingredients include snails, rosemary, garlic and duck.

The type of paella in the south where my mother and I dined is arroz a banda, in which the rice is infused with seafood broth and mixed with chopped shrimp and squid. No wonder the paella I had was garnished with just a shrimp or two. I thought the restaurants were being cheap. No, they were just being autentica.

In Spain, paella rarely (never?) is made with both seafood and chicken or rabbit. And sausage? They would run you out of town.

But knowledge doesn’t always beget wisdom. I still love paella with chicken AND seafood AND sausage. The combo was good enough for Craig Claiborne when he wrote “The New York Times Cook Book” in 1961 and it still is good enough for me.

I’m not totally stuck in the past, though. After reading the wiki, I amended Claiborne’s recipe to include common Spanish paella ingredients he probably didn’t have access to at the time — specifically, smoked paprika and fava beans instead of peas. I skipped the pimiento and green pepper in his recipe, too, and substituted pancetta for the salt pork and ham.

Claiborne’s recipe is more compact than the one below, but I wanted to add information on handling and purging the mussels and clams.

This paella is one of my favorite dishes for a group because it covers all the bases — seafood for meat avoiders, chicken for seafood haters and, if you serve it with Champagne sangria as I did to a group of Tony’s ESL (English as a second language) classmates last week, enough bubbly to break the ice around the communal table.

EVERYTHING PAELLA

12 large shrimp
12 smallish (50 cent size) clams
1 lb. mussels
1 tsp. oregano
4 peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. vinegar
8 meaty chicken legs or mix of legs and thighs
4 oz. pancetta
1 6-inch link of chorizo sausage, preferably dried, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp. capers
2 1/4 cups white long- or medium-grain white rice
1 tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 cup peeled fava beans or edamame

Shell and de-vein the shrimp and refrigerate. Take the clams and mussels immediately home from the store (no stopping for a fro yo) and place over ice in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a wet dish towel and refrigerate. Use that same day.

Prep all of the ingredients (chop the onion, slice the sausage, measure out spices) and line them up in order of use next to the stove.

About 1 1/2 hours before dinner, combine the peppercorns, garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the vinegar in a mortar or a sturdy little bowl and grind together with a pestle or mash with the back of a wooden spoon until thoroughly amalgamated. Rub chicken all over with the mixture and refrigerate.

Fill a large mixing bowl three-fourths of the way with cool water. Stir in 1/2 cup or so of salt until dissolved. Place clams and mussels in water and let stand at room temperature to purge any sand the shellfish contain. Tony purges overnight for sushi, but 20 minutes to an hour is long enough.

About an hour before dinner, fry pancetta in a large, deep skillet or paella pan until crisp.
Remove the pancetta and reserve. Add remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Fry chicken over medium-high heat until golden brown on all sides. Stir in chorizo, onions and capers. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and transparent, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash rice in a bowl of cool water two or three times, swishing it around with your fingers and draining off the starchy water and refilling each time. Drain well. Begin heating a covered pot with about 2 inches of water for steaming the mussels and clams.

Add rice and tomato paste to chicken mixture in skillet. Stir, turning it over from top to bottom. Stir in boiling water, saffron, smoked paprika and fava beans. Cover and simmer rapidly for 20 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Turn mixture top to bottom. Stir in shrimp and reserved pancetta. Cover and continue to cook over low heat.

Meanwhile, transfer shellfish to the pot of boiling water. Cover and cook over high heat until the shells open, about 5 minutes.

Turn paella onto a platter and garnish with the clams and shrimp. Makes about 6 to 8 servings.

JANE’S CHAMPAGNE SANGRIA
1 cup mango nectar
2 cans (12 oz. each) fizzy mango-flavored water
1 cup halved grapes
1 nectarine, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 limes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, skin and all
1 orange, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, skin and all
3 bottles of sparkling wine
In a pitcher, combine mango nectar, flavored water and fruit. Feel free to substitute or add other chopped fruits such as pineapple and pear.

Fill stemmed wine glasses (not flutes) halfway with juice and fruit. Top with sparkling wine. Makes many, many drinks.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked/assembled last week:
Muskmelon and prosciutto for a perfect breakfast; a protein shake; pan-grilled top sirloin steak, steamed corn on the cob, roasted green peppers with olive oil and sea salt, and baked potato with sour cream; hard-fried egg and ripe tomato with pesto on whole-wheat toast; roast chicken sandwich on whole-wheat toast with sliced cucumber, tomato, sea salt and mayo; salted almonds and jumbo blue cheese-stuffed olives, paella with chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams and mussels, and Champagne sangria with fresh fruit; potato, green bean and corn soup with smoked ham hock and a pesto swirl.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a BLT at the Eye Opener in Akron (where I saw on the menu a deep-fried biscuit with Crooked River jam, ala the cronut); Shanghai soup dumplings, chili wontons and stir-fried noodles with beef at LJ Shanghai in Cleveland; plain popcorn at Regal Theater; a cabbage roll and bites of Tony’s sausage and pierogi at Al’s Corner Restaurant in Barberton; garlic marinated shrimp, roast pork tenderloin with wine sauce, mushroom-pecan latkes with chive sour cream, hasselback tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, and a peanut butter-chocolate chip bar at my friend Michele’s; scrambled eggs and grits at Cracker Barrel.

THE MAILBAG

From Louise H.:
I just read your latest newsletter and enjoyed your comments on Mark Auburn’s book, which I have read. I’m so happy to see the mention of this book.

Are you related to Glenna Snow, who was food editor at the Beacon Journal in the 1940s? She was a founder of the University of Akron Women’s Committee and taught at UA after retiring from the Beacon. I have recently read some of the historical articles about her efforts to furnish the UA home economics house in 1948-’49. It was an interesting venture!

Dear Louise:
No, I’m not related to Glenna, though I’m often asked that question. I just finished writing a brief history of the Beacon Journal’s food coverage for an upcoming book, and delved into Glenna’s career in my research. This is the first I’ve heard of her post-newspaper doings at the University of Akron, though. Thank you for the information.

From Jenny K.:
Several recipes I have call for Japanese sake. I’ve tried to find out the type to use in cooking savory dishes, but with no luck. Do you have any recommendations?

Dear Jenny:
I buy One Cup Sake for cooking because it tastes good (for sake) but is relatively inexpensive. More important, it comes in one-cup glass containers, so I don’t have half a bottle cluttering my refrigerator. Sake is made in various styles and most would work in cooking. But there’s no sense spending a lot of money on the boutique stuff for cooking.

August 21, 2019

Dear friends,
Farm stands and farmers’ markets are a minefield for me this month. I can’t resist. Anything.

I bought a basket of about 10 large heirloom tomatoes last week and have been eating them out of hand like apples, sprinkled with chunky sea salt, as I race to use them up. Then at Rittman Orchards in Doylestown on Sunday I bought big handfuls of green beans and a bunch of nectarines that I sliced and tossed with my own blackberries for a pie.

I have been indulging in corn and watermelon for a month, and now am heavily into muskmelon. I supplemented my stash with a fragrant little Charentais (!) melon I also found at Rittman Orchards.

And then at Dunkler’s in Copley last week, I was thrilled to see that hot peppers are finally in season. A pile of shiny, fat, wrinkled poblanos called to me. I scooped up four big ones and carted them home with no idea what to do with them. I couldn’t justify the calories of chile rellenos, which I craved. So I started thinking of ways to slim down that dish of cheese-stuffed peppers, breaded and deep-fried.

The recipe I came up with is a cross between rellenos and stuffed peppers with a Mexican accent. I roasted the poblanos over my gas stove burner (electric will work, too) and stuffed the peeled peppers with a delicious mixture of browned ground meat, fresh corn kernels and crumbled feta cheese seasoned with oregano. A splash of Worcestershire gave the mixture an undercurrent of umami. I stirred in a bit of shredded Mexican-style cheese mix (Monterey Jack and Cheddar) for melty goodness.

After baking the peppers for 20 minutes, I lashed them with lime-flavored sour cream and scattered some chopped tomato over the top. Yeow. The filling was delicious, and the cool lime sour cream tied together the flavors and toned down the mild sting of the poblanos. Tony and I loved them.

Now, what to do with a crate of cabbage and a half-peck of new potatoes?

BAKED STUFFED POBLANO PEPPERS

6 fat poblano peppers
1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup fresh corn kernels
Salt, pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend (or Jack) cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. milk
Grated zest of 1 small lime
Chopped ripe tomato for garnish

Blister peppers on all sides on a grill or over a gas or electric range burner. Immediately place in a paper bag and close tightly. After 5 minutes, rub each pepper under running water to remove blistered skin. Don’t worry if some skin remains.

Cut a lengthwise slit in each pepper and carefully remove the seeds without tearing the pepper. Wear rubber gloves if you wish. I didn’t, but I was careful not to rub my eyes. Set peppers aside on paper towels.

While peppers steam in the paper bag, start the filling. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet. Sauté the onions over medium-high heat until softened. Add garlic and sauté a minute longer. Crumble in ground beef and cook, stirring often, until no longer pink, adding the remaining tablespoon of oil if necessary.

Stir in corn kernels. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Stir in Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat and stir in feta and shredded cheese.

Stuff the poblano peppers with the meat mixture. It should be enough to fill six large poblanos. Arrange in a single layer in a baking pan or individual ramekins, allowing two peppers per person. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the cheeses have melted.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine sour cream, milk and lime juice, stirring until smooth. Spoon into a small sandwich bag and snip off one corner (a tiny snip!). When the peppers are done, place two on each plate (or leave in ramekins) and squeeze the sour cream mixture over them in a decorative squiggle. Scatter a spoonful of chopped tomato over all. Makes 3 servings.

TIDBITS
Anyone who is nostalgic for 1950s and 1960s food should read “In the President’s Home: Memories of the Akron Auburns,” my friend Mark Auburn’s book about the years his father, Norman, was president of the University of Akron (1951-1971).

Mark, a fellow food-lover, did not stint on descriptions of the food served to family and guests alike. I am now bereft that I never tasted Blossom Shop Candies’ mint disks sandwiched with a layer of chocolate. And Mark, I want you to know I STILL eat Coco Wheats. Not often, but there’s a box in my cabinet for special occasions.

The book is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble in Montrose, or through the University of Akron Press.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Chicken, tomato and pesto on whole wheat toast; feta, tomato and pesto on whole wheat; sautéed zucchini smothered with spaghetti sauce and melted feta cheese; stir-fried cauliflower rice with chicken and vegetables in a spicy sauce; hard-fried egg, pesto and tomato on whole wheat toast; bagged chopped salad and microwaved frozen chimichurri chicken; roasted bell peppers with olive oil and sea salt; eggplant Parmesan; venison spaghetti sauce; peach and blackberry pie; baked stuffed poblano peppers.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Indian bread stuffed with potatoes, chickpeas with Indian spices (chana masala), lamb madras, chicken tika masala, steamed basmati rice, Indian masala tea at Singh Biryani in Cuyahoga Falls (very good); small popcorn no butter at Regal Cinema; Coney dog with onions and mustard and a diet root beer at Coney Island Diner in Mansfield; steak salad from Chipotle.

THE MAILBAG

From Bill B.:
Just had a blurb on my Facebook feed for a place in Wooster called Bay Lobsters. Seems they are handling a lot of fresh seafood, along with the lobsters. I haven’t been there yet. Have you?

Dear Bill:
Yes. The business sponsored this newsletter when they had a store in Twinsburg. I noticed just recently that their shop is now in Wooster, and they have added a cafe. They sell very fresh seafood. The Bay Lobsters Cafe & Fish Market website is baylobsterswooster.com.

From Anne K.:
I would be interested in knowing the instance of salmonella in heritage pork grown by small producers who do not use antibiotics. I try not to buy any grocery store pork.

Dear Anne:
I have no information on that, but would guess that pork from a small operation whose breeding stock does not come from a mass producer would be a safer bet for consumers.

August 14, 2019

Dear friends,
My days of relishing blushing-pink pork are over. Yours may be, too, if you read the expose on the pork industry Sunday in the New York Times.

In a meticulously researched story, reporter Matt Richtel lays out evidence that pork tainted with a dangerous variant strain of salmonella is seriously sickening people because the bacteria is resistant to four major antibiotics.

Why is this particular type of salmonella so hard to kill with antibiotics? Probably because many pork producers have overused antibiotics on their hogs to the point that the bacteria has mutated into a resistant strain.

Where are these hogs being raised? How widespread is the problem? There’s the rub.

The pork farmers and their organization, the National Pork Producers Council, have refused to cooperate with scientists trying to track the infected meat. Because of the historically cozy relationship of pork producers — and heck, most food producers — with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rules do not exist to force the farmers to cooperate. The farmers are afraid if the tainted pork is traced to specific producers, their business will suffer. Huh.

According to the Times article, the problem came to light after nearly 200 people became ill from tainted pork in a Washington outbreak in 2015. Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to Washington. An analysis by researchers at the Environmental Working Group found that 71 percent of pork chops in supermarkets in the United States carried resistant bacteria.

Cooking pork to 145 degrees (160 degrees for ground pork) will kill any salmonella it harbors, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But it’s easy to spread the bacteria from raw meat before it is cooked. I intend to handle raw pork very carefully from now on. And I’ll use an instant-read thermometer to be sure it is done.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed whole lobsters, microwaved corn on the cob; frozen chimichurri chicken breast (heated) and a bagged chopped salad with chipotle and Cheddar cheese; a BLT (for Tony) and a grilled salmon, lettuce and tomato (me), and Seiberling steamed corn; oven-baked wild sockeye salmon glazed with sweet soy sauce (for me) and with a cucumber-mayo sauce (for Tony), steamed corn, cucumber salad with sesame dressing.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Bacon, egg and sausage flatbread, coffee at Red Cup in Boothbay Harbor, Me.; oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce at Glidden Point Oyster Farm in Edgecomb, Me.; fried clams from Frye House in Farmingdale, Me.; half of a Subway roast beef sub; scrambled egg with ham, a buttermilk biscuit and coffee at Monroe’s Family Restaurant in Twin Mountain, N.H.; a hot dog and a bag of popcorn at a football team fund-raiser along I-90 in Massachusetts; half a Subway ham and cheese.

THE MAILBAG
From Dorothy B.:
What a great story, Jane (about last week’s clam-hunting trip). It reminds me of a time many, many years ago when we were camping and went down to the dock and bought our lobsters right off the boat. We steamed them over the campfire using the rack in a large canning pot. Thanks for dredging up some great memories.

From Carol B.:
Wow, Jane, your description of Maine food is so enticing that I want to jump in the car and head east!

I’ve been to Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast, Maine a couple of times, and thinking about it makes my mouth water. Is there ANY place in Northeast Ohio where we can get food like that?

By the way, September and October are great months to travel to tourist-heavy areas like that. You might have cooler weather, but I hate hot weather anyway.

Dear Carol:
Yes, I will have to start traveling in the off season. The over-tourism caught me by surprise in Paris last year, too.

You won’t find off-the-boat Maine food in Ohio, but you can find lobsters and clams (although rarely steamers) in the fall when clam bake season cranks up. Papa Joe’s in the Merriman Valley in Akron always has a number of lobster specials in the fall, including a lobster bake, and many restaurants offer clam bakes.

But none of them equals sitting on a bench outside eating lobster rolls and fresh-dug clams. Maybe you could get together with friends, make a mad dash to the coast for seafood, and have your own lobster festival when you return.

From Mary P.:
Jane, I made your corn and onion salad the other day. It was delicious.

In reading the email from Bill B., I just did not understand the “microwaving onion stem” and then the rest of the sentence without punctuation, I’m guessing.
So, is he suggesting microwaving the onions…in no butter, little butter, or what?

Sorry to need a clearer understanding.

Dear Mary:
Bill’s email made perfect sense, but I garbled it badly when I retyped it. I didn’t proofread it either, apparently. My apologies.

The point Bill made is that he partially cooks/steams large amounts of chopped onion in the microwave before transferring them to a skillet to caramelize in butter on the stove. Because the onions are partially cooked, they caramelize on the stove much faster and therefore need less butter to keep them from burning.

The chopped onions should probably go in a shallow, wide casserole dish. No butter. Cover and microwave until fairly softened. The time will depend on the amount of onions and the power of your microwave. Exactness doesn’t matter. Even a bit of precooking will shave time from the caramelizing process on the stove. Right, Bill?

From Marnie F., Charlotte, N.C.:
I am a former Cleveland native, living in Charlotte for 30 years. Your corn story a few weeks ago brought back many memories of Ohio sweet corn. I shared your story about eating the corn at various stages after picking at a family reunion with corn lovers from both coasts and the Midwest. Everyone enjoyed your research. My question is whether you have this report available to the public. It would make a great gift for all of the sweet corn lovers I know.

Dear Marnie:
That research ran in a story in the Beacon Journal on August 12, 1987 under the headline Stalking Great Corn. The story was about the then-new hybrid super-sweet corn, and how it tasted compared to regular just-picked corn and ears that were four hours old.

The article is available free in the Akron Beacon Journal database of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. You can access the database online with your library card number at akronlibrary.org. Others can access it through a paid newspaper archives service. Ask at your local library.

August 7, 2019

Dear friends,
The tidal flats of the central coast of Maine zigzag for miles along fingers that reach inland from the ocean. Tony and I crisscrossed them again and again in our search for the rocky shore. I would lick my lips in hunger.

“That’s clam territory,” I told Tony atop one bridge. “Keep an eye out for signs.”

Sure enough, on yet another ill-fated attempt to beat the hordes of tourists to the actual shore, I spotted culinary gold: A hand-pained sign, “Clams, Seafood” with an arrow.

We turned off State Route 209 near Phippsburgh onto a narrow, rutted road. Around a bend was a small pre-fab building with a cement loading dock and a sign, “Clam Hunter Seafood.”

“Come on up,” called the smiling woman on the dock. She led us inside, where wire shelves and water-filled tubs were crammed with clams and oysters. Lobsters bubbled in a glass tank filled with sea water. A man — her husband? — with a wind-burned face and rolled-down waders directed a spray of water at shell debris on the concrete floor. Yes, he had just dredged up the clams, he said.

The clams had already been purged, we were told. That meant I wouldn’t have to soak them in salt water until they released any sand they harbored. Already-purged clams were a real find.

Soft-shells, called steamers here, were $6 a pound. Lobsters were $7 a pound. I almost cried when I realized I couldn’t fit three pounds of clams AND lobsters in the little cooler I had brought.

I only needed a pound of clams for the recipe I had in mind, but I knew I could eat more than a dozen myself, the average number of steamers in a pound. I bought three pounds and doubled the sauce recipe.

I have had some fine clams in Maine so far. My first meal was a lobster roll and a dozen steamers with clam broth and drawn butter. They tasted like the sea and reminded me of my early 20s, when I lived in Atlantic City and was in love with life and my first taste of seafood. My second restaurant meal was an indecently big pile of fried seafood including clams fresh from the shell, dunked in batter and fried until crisp and golden. They were so sweet and crisp I’ll be dreaming of them the rest of my life.

Then there were my clams. Back at my camper, I made a soffritto of crisp-fried pancetta, softened onion and minced fennel. I cut thick slices of crusty bread, fried them in olive oil and rubbed them with garlic. I bubbled those sea-fresh clams with wine, lemon peel, a bay leaf and the sofrito. When the flavors were blended and the clams had opened, I ladled everything over the thick slices of toast on a platter.

A half-dozen clams and the broth-soaked toast turned out to be plenty for me but not nearly enough for Tony, who ate almost all of them. The clams on toast was so good Tony suggested selling it along the roadside to other tourists stuck in traffic, trying to find the shore. He thinks we could make a fortune.

A word of warning: The Maine coast, like many popular destinations, suffers from over tourism. If you want to see a tide pool or a rocky headland or an ocean wave, get up before dawn. We were stuck in traffic for hours on U.S.1 one day, and were turned away a half-mile from Popham Beach State Park another day because all of the parking lots were full by noon.

But there are still clams, lobsters and oysters to be had on byways far from the madding crowds.

CLAM TOASTS WITH PANCETTA

(From Bon Appetit magazine)
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, 2 sliced thin, 2 whole
1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus 1/4 cup fennel fronds
2 wide strips (3 inches long) lemon zest
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
1 cup dry white wine, divided
Pinch of salt
2 thick (1 1/2 inch) slices sourdough bread
1 lb. clams (steamers or littleneck)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Crushed red pepper flakes

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp. Add sliced garlic and stir-fry until it is golden around the edges, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and add onion and chopped fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.

Add lemon zest, bay leaf, ground fennel, ½ cup wine and a pinch of salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is mostly reduced but mixture is still a little bit saucy. Transfer soffritto to a medium bowl; discard lemon zest and bay leaf. Wipe out skillet.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in same skillet over medium. Cook bread slices in skillet until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Cut 1 garlic clove in half and rub one side of each toast with cut side of garlic. Wipe out skillet.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium. Crush remaining garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife and cook, stirring often, until it begins to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add clams, soffritto, and remaining ½ cup wine. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by half and clams are open (discard any that do not open), 5 to 7 minutes. Add parsley and chopped fennel fronds and cook 1 minute longer.

To serve, place a piece of fried bread on each of two plates and spoon clam mixture and broth over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Makes 2 appetizer or light lunch servings.

Note: Soffritto can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and chill.

GUT CHECK
What I prepared last week:
Crudités and a campfire hotdog with mustard and onions; a scrambled duck egg sandwich and coffee; grilled strip steaks and microwaved corn on the cob; salade Nicoise and a ripe peach; clam toast with pancetta.

What I at in/from restaurants:
Buffalo wings from Bella Pizza in Lackawanna, N.Y.; a cheese omelet, whole wheat toast and coffee at Cherry Tree Inn in Henderson, N.Y.; half of a Subway ham and cheese; a brick oven pizza with garlic sauce, chicken, feta, dried cranberries and walnuts and a Stella Artois; fried fish, french fries, coleslaw, mac and cheese and a roll from Ghize’s Tavern in Ogdensburg, N.Y.; stuffed cabbage and potato moussaka from a farmers’ market in St. Albans, Vt.; a lobster roll (the meat of an entire lobster in a toasted split-top bun with melted butter on the side), homemade thick-cut potato chips, steamed clams at Lobster in the Rough in York, Maine; fried scallops, clams, haddock and shrimp with french fries and a roll at Sea Basket Restaurant in Wiscasset, Maine.

THE MAILBAG
From Bill B.:
Regarding the caramelized onions in your corn salad, do you ever microwave stem the chopped onions to cut cooking time when caramelizing them I do this when I’m making huge batches of onions. This usually cuts down on the amount of butter I need to use as well.

Dear Bill:
Brilliant. Next time, instead of cutting down on butter to save calories but then not quite caramelizing the onions so they don’t burn, I will try your trick. Thanks.

July 31, 2019

Dear friends,
What a difference four years make. In 2015 I was whining about wedging all of my garden produce in the refrigerator. This year, I have exactly one tomato that has been ripening for a month now and is still too green to pick.

Yes, I sent soil away for testing and added the recommended amendments. No, it didn’t help. The garden that once gave me so much pleasure now produces mostly grass and weeds.

This week I leave it all behind to travel to upstate New York and Maine, where I will eat someone else’s blueberries and tomatoes and console myself with lobsters and clams. To remind myself of the good old days. I’ve left behind this column from 2015:

We open the refrigerator gingerly at this time of year. It is so stuffed with produce that an errant breeze could dislodge a cantaloupe or trigger an avalanche of eggplants or send a quart of blackberries tumbling over the bacon.

My untamed but prolific garden produces on its own schedule and I must adjust. When the rains last weekend unleashed a deluge of yellow squash, green beans and bell peppers, I knew something in the fridge had to go. In order to make room for the new stuff, I had to sacrifice half of a watermelon. I thought about that watermelon all day Sunday. By the time Tony and I returned from the Medina County Fair, I had a rough recipe in my head.

“Let’s go out to dinner,” Tony suggested as we pulled into the drive. “No,” I snapped. “We have to eat a watermelon!”

He shrugged and wandered into the living room while I went to work, cutting the melon into 1 1/2-inch cubes. I added sliced green onions and crushed coriander seeds. I had bought some dark, robustly flavored buckwheat honey at the fair. I spooned some out and stirred in a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. In another bowl I made a dressing of fresh lime juice, olive oil and crushed red chili pepper flakes with just enough sugar to tame the acid.

I loaded the watermelon salad, chunks of feta cheese, pita bread and chicken burgers on a platter and carted everything into the living room where Tony was watching the Olympics. Just before dishing up the watermelon, I tossed the cubes with the chili-lime dressing and drizzled it with the salted honey.

“This is good,” Tony said, spearing another bite. “Really, really good.”

I noticed he was watching synchronized swimming. Two perky young women with sequined bathing suits and nose plugs were jerking their heads and slapping the water in unison. Tony thought they were really, really good, too. I hope I can trust his taste.

Flowers yes; vegetables, no.

WATERMELON SALAD WITH CHILI-LIME DRESSING AND SALTED HONEY DRIZZLE
Chili-lime dressing:
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt

Salad:
6 cups chilled watermelon in 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup sliced green onion
2 tbsp. minced mild or medium-hot fresh green chili pepper such as Anaheim
1/4 tsp. crushed coriander seeds
2 tbsp. buckwheat honey or other full-flavored honey
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Combine the dressing ingredients, mix well and refrigerate. Just before serving combine the watermelon, onions, minced fresh chilies and coriander seeds in a medium bowl. In a custard cup or small container, stir together honey and sea salt. Pour chili-lime dressing over salad and gently but thoroughly toss. Drizzle salted honey over salad; do not toss. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Pan-fried cod with stir-fried vegetables in ginger-garlic sauce over steamed rice; hard-over egg and basil leaves on whole wheat toast, cucumber spears and blueberries; a detox smoothie; shrimp cocktail, tomato and cucumber salad with fresh dill; pan-grilled salmon with a sweet soy sauce glaze, tomato and cucumber salad, a glass of Champagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Egg drop soup and chicken in black bean sauce (very good) at Chin’s Place in Akron; a Taco Bell taco; popcorn at Regal Cinema; Chipotle barbacoa salad; Superfoods Salad at Aladdin’s in Montrose.

THE MAILBAG
From M.P.
Years ago we were at Lake Chautauqua for the week and I was frying potatoes and hot peppers for our fishermen husbands. I did not wear gloves and soon felt the effects of the pepper oil. It felt as if my hands were in the skillet!

I will forgo all the details but will tell you the pharmacist filled the script for the doctor-recommended salve but told us olive oil would work better and faster. We located the nearest grocery store and quickly grabbed a bottle. We had brought with us a large bowl of water that my hands had been in on our trip to the hospital. We tossed out the water and poured the oil over my burned hands. Oh, the relief.

God bless this man behind the counter in the town of Warren, Pa.

Dear M.P.:
Astounding! I did not know this about olive oil. You have helped many people today.

From Carol P.:
I wanted to tell you how I make jojo potatoes. It’s not original but I think it saves time. Wash russet potatoes and pierce with a fork. Place in microwave and cook until tender. Cut into fourth lengthwise. When cool, brush with mayo or ranch dressing. Roll in panko or regular bread crumbs. Fry in 1/4 inch of oil until brown on all sides. Remember, the potato is already cooked.

I think your garlic butter brushed on while the potatoes are hot would be yummy. Then sprinkle with Parmesan after frying.

Dear Carol:
Dino Reed at Wise Guys told me he roasts the baking potatoes before he cuts them lengthwise into quarters and fries them, so his method is similar to yours. He prepares them in advance to that point, then coats them with garlic butter and Parmesan and warms them in the oven.

From Rachel A.:
My first job was in the farm market at Graf Growers in Akron, and I am still a corn snob about it. The corn I get there always tastes best to me. Apparently, nostalgia tastes like sweet corn.

Try this corn salad, too. I made it for my husband and mother-in-law last week and both of them raved about the flavors. The contrast between the warm roasted corn and the cool, creamy sauce is awesome; the tang from the quick-pickled onions adds a lovely little bite. It’s absolutely delicious: https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/07/corn-salad-with-chile-and-lime/.

Dear Rachel:
I like Graf corn, too. I intend to try your corn salad recipe, which author Deb Perelman says is modeled on the popular Mexican-style street corn. Thanks for the link.

July 24, 2019

Dear friends,
I jumped out of bed Saturday, fully alert. It was corn day. I had waited all year. Seiberling Corn Farm in Norton would open at 9 a.m. for the season.

At 9:40 I snagged the last parking spot in front of the farm house. A slew of people already were digging through a pile of corn under a canopy. When an an older guy on a tractor putted up with another load, I wanted to hug him. I resisted.

To me, fresh corn on the cob is the essence of summer. It would be on my bucket-list last meal. I love it so much that I think I talked Northeast Ohio into making it the symbol of summer, too. A new managing editor imported from Miami once expressed surprise that my “corn is here” story appeared on the newspaper’s front page. On reflection, he decided that in Ohio, the opening of corn season probably was big news.

No. In all modesty, I think I made it big news by writing so enthusiastically about corn year after year after year. I wrote about Szalay’s vs. Graf vs. Rufener’s. I gave ridiculously detailed directions for cooking it in the microwave, on the grill, and in boiling water. One year I set up a pan of boiling water on a camp stove in the middle of a corn field and cooked an ear seconds after picking, then judged it against ears picked an hour, two hours and four hours earlier, some refrigerated and some not.

Sure, everybody around here already liked corn. But I was nuts about it, and I think my mania rubbed off.

I’m still nuts about it, and was distraught when the wet weather impacted planting last spring. Would there be corn?

I actually was happy when Szalay’s and Graf started bringing in corn from central and southern Ohio to keep the corn-hungry hordes at bay. In past years I disdained the out-of-town stuff. Then on Saturday, the real thing arrived.

Although there are only two of us, I got caught up in the corn-shucking frenzy at Seiberling’s. I stripped a dozen ears naked and, back in the car, dug one out of the bag and took a huge bite, typewriter style. I looked up, cob still to my lips, and locked eyes with an elderly woman. She gave me a thumbs up.

I found this recipe for corn salad in the “Food 52 Cookbook, Volume 2.” The original uses pancetta, cilantro and more olive oil than mine, which allowed the onions to be cooked longer. I sacrificed complete caramelization for calories, cutting the olive oil in half.

The beauty of the salad is the onions, which sweeten and also take on a bit of tartness from the vinegar, forming a built-in dressing for the corn. It is one of the best corn salads I’ve tasted. There’s no reason the salad couldn’t be served warm as a side dish, either.

And of course, you could forego the salad altogether and eat your corn raw, out of hand, in the car.

CORN AND CARAMELIZED ONION SALAD

4 slices bacon
Kernels from 6 ears of corn
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Dash of salt
8 to 10 medium basil leaves

Fry the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp; drain on paper towels. Pour off and reserve all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Sauté the corn kernels in the skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and turning, for 1 minute. Transfer corn to a serving bowl.

Return skillet to the burner over medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat and the olive oil. Stir in onions, vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to caramelize. Stir onions into the corn.

Cool salad to room temperature. Stir in chopped basil, crumbled bacon and sea salt to taste. Makes 6 servings.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Kung bao chicken, steamed rice; beet, dill and goat cheese salad; eggplant, garlic and basil salad; corn and caramelized onion salad and roast mustard-glazed pork tenderloin.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Salad with raw tuna, edamame, cucumbers, peppers, pickled turnips and ginger and ponzu dressing from Tensuke Market in Columbus; Cobb salad from Sam’s Club; cauliflower-crust pizza with steak and mushrooms, Bud Light at Pavona’s Pizza Joint on Sand Run Road in Akron (a new place); the Laddie Burger and garlic-Parmesan Jo-Jo potatoes at Wise Guys in Akron; baba ganoush, hummus, pita bread, kibbee, marinated grilled chicken, marinated grilled beef and kefta from Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls.

TIDBIT
Are you kidding me?? A juicy, double 3-inch-high cheeseburger that’s a contender for the best in Akron, PLUS the ultimate Jo-Jos rolled in garlic butter and dusted with Parmesan, at a fast-food price? Seriously. It’s $7 on Thursdays in the bar at Wise Guys Lounge & Grill in the North Hill area of Akron.

Kathy C. told me a year or more ago about the Thursday special. She didn’t tell me the colossal hamburger is on the menu the rest of the week at just $10 or I probably would have eaten one by now. The thing must weigh 1 pound and chef Dino Reed and his crew have the skill to cook it perfectly. If you want medium-rare, that’s what you get.

You also get real cloth napkins, soft music and upscale Rat Pack decor. I already loved this place for the beautifully prepared steaks and lamb chops at moderate prices. Now I am obsessed with it for the cheeseburger. See you Thursday.

Check out the full menu at wiseguys.us.

BYE BYE BLENDER
I can finally get rid of my bozo Hamilton Beach blender. I bought it for recipe testing. I wanted equipment most people would have, which ruled out a $450 Vitamix.

Now that I’m retired my budget rules out a Vitamix. So I was thrilled but skeptical when I found a like-new smoothie maker for $8 at a second-hand store. It turned out to be a $160 Smoothie Elite that chomps through pineapple and liquefies kale like a champ. It is a powerful machine.

I am telling you this in case you, too, get hooked on the 180-calorie detox smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Cafe (the one near Belden Village is now open). Making them at home with a Smoothie Elite is the way to go. If you lost the recipe, it’s on my blog site at janesnowtoday.com. The search button is above my photo.

THE MAILBAG
From Carol B.:
Regarding your hot pepper incident, I fixed a Pakistani chicken dish for my Dining for Women meeting last week. I had the most beautiful peppers from Kreiger’s on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls — plump, smooth, large, crunchy. I stupidly did not use gloves when I minced them. I woke up in the middle of the night with burning hands and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I got a gel pack from the freezer, went back to bed and wrapped my hands in it. It worked! I woke up in the morning with no stinging hands!

P.S.: If you’ve never heard of Dining for Women, check it out at diningforwomen.org. They do wonderful things to empower women around the world.

Dear Carol:
Boy, you must have gotten a hot batch of jalapeños. I never use gloves for them, although I do for peppers higher on the Scoville scale. Thank you for bringing Dining for Women to my attention. I encourage others to click on the link and check out this wonderful organization.

From Chris D.:
For some weeks there was a sign in a tiny storefront between the Indian grocery and Strickland’s on Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls saying “Coming soon Singh Biryani, healthy Indian carry out food.” It finally opened on July 19! I’m leaving on vacation, will visit the restaurant when I get back. I wish them success!

Dear Chris:
Thank you for the great tip. I hope to get there soon.

July 17, 2019

Dear friends,

Sheesh. What a big baby. Tony, coughing and hacking nonstop, poked his head into the kitchen (twice!) and whined, “What are you DOING in here?” I was coughing, too, but you didn’t hear me complaining. Eyes streaming, I just kept stir-frying those dried Sichuan peppers.

Then I heard the dog cough. Uh oh. The kung bao chicken was cooked and photographed by then. I grabbed Oscar, a wad of Kleenex and headed outside.

So fair warning: If you make the recipe below, turn on the range hood fan, position rotating fans throughout adjoining rooms, and sequester your pets on the porch.

I had forgotten how pungent the aroma of frying hot peppers can be. Later, I remembered that this is the recipe my friend Elizabeth still talks about from a cooking session in her kitchen 35 years ago. We cleared the house that time.

Well, not quite this recipe. The one Elizabeth and I made was from the little cookbook I mentioned two weeks ago. I made that kung bao recipe a few days ago and it was just OK. In 1984 or ’85, I thought it was the bomb. After a few decades of eating kung bao, I knew it could be better.

I got a few requests for the kung bao recipe after I mentioned it, but I didn’t want to drop that so-so version on you. So I turned to the most authoritative Sichuan recipe source I know, “Land of Plenty” by Fuchsia Dunlop. I bought fresh dried chili peppers and hauled out the black Chinese vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns, ingredients unheard of by home cooks when the old cookbook was written. Also unheard of was traveling to China’s Sichuan province and quizzing the chefs, as Dunlop did.

So how is her recipe? The stir fry was delicious — sweet, tart, salty and crunchy all at once. The dried peppers (carefully picked out at the table) provided an insistent but not overwhelming heat, complemented by the numbing sting of the Sichuan peppercorns. All of the Chinese ingredients in the recipe are readily available now in Asian food stores.

“It’s hot, but a good hot,” Tony said after inhaling all but my one little portion. Meaning it’s hot enough to notice but not hot enough to drown out the flavor.

The dog sat this one out.

KUNG PAO CHICKEN WITH PEANUTS

2 boneless chicken breasts, 2/3 lb. total (about 11 ounces)
3 cloves garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger
5 scallions, white parts only
2 tbsp. peanut oil
A generous handful of dried Sichuan chilies (at least 10)
1 tsp. whole Sichuan peppercorns
2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

Marinade:
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp. potato flour or 2 1/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. water

Sauce:
3 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. potato flour or 1 1/8 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. light soy sauce
3 tsp. Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. chicken stock or water

Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1/2-inch strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients. Marinate for 30 minutes if possible.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger. Chop the scallions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chilies in half or into 2-inch sections. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many seeds as possible.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl — if you dip your finger in, you can taste the sweet-sour base of the kung bao flavor.

Turn on the range exhaust fan. Heat a wok or deep, heavy skillet over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When it is hot but not yet smoking, add the dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Do not burn.

Quickly add the chicken and stir-fry over high heat. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and scallions and continue to stir fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the chicken is cooked through.

Give the sauce a stir and add to the pan, stirring and tossing. When the sauce becomes thick and shiny, stir in the peanuts and serve. Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as part of a Chinese meal with 3 other dishes.

From “Land of Plenty” by Fuchsia Dunlop.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Mushroom skillet soufflé; barbecued ribs, romaine salad with mushrooms and radish and a vodka martini.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
An Olympia scramble (eggs, potatoes, beets, radish hash, etc.) at the Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls; Sichuan stir-fried yellow squash; half a berry salad from the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; a Chipotle salad with chicken; a bowl of Cincinnati chili, hold the spaghetti, from Dixie Chili in Erlanger, Ky.; hard-fried eggs, melted cheese and ripped tortillas (chilaquiles) with grilled chicken and salsa, two slices of fried ripe plantain and a Diet Coke from El Valle Verde in Erlanger, Ky.; beef in wine sauce, mashed potatoes, a roll, Chardonnay, Champagne and half of a lemon macaron at a wedding in Covington, Ky.

THE MAILBAG

From Mickey S.:
The Smithville Inn has closed. We always enjoyed going there. We would like to have a copy of their recipe for Creamy Noodle Casserole. Do you think you could find it?

Also, I have their recipe for Sour Cream Peach Crunch Pie. It is to die for if you love peaches. They gave it out several years ago.

SOUR CREAM PEACH CRUNCH PIE
(Smithville Inn)
1 9-inch deep-dish unbaked pie shell
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
2 cups fresh or canned peach slices

Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
4 tbsp. cup cold butter

Make the unbaked pie shell and set aside. Blend together eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla. Beat in sour cream. Stir in peaches. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Combine sugar and flour for topping in a bowl. Cut in butter until the crumbs are the size of peas. Sprinkle on top of pie and bake 30 minutes longer or until set. Cool.

Dear Mickey:
Wow, does that sound good. Although I won’t indulge, I bet many others will.

I’m sorry I don’t have the recipe for the restaurant’s famous chicken and noodles, which I tasted when I reviewed the Smithville Inn many years ago, and again more recently with Tony. If someone who has the recipe sees this and is kind enough to send it, I’ll make sure you get a copy. It’s the least we can do for sharing the recipe for that pie.

July 10, 2019

Dear friends,
The mushrooms were golden and a bit fuzzy, like button mushrooms from an alternate reality. I can’t remember their name. I remember the flavor, though — a bit more pronounced than regular white mushrooms, with earthy, woodland notes.

I bought a small sack of the mushrooms at the Countryside Farmers Market Saturday — just enough to flavor a soufflé if I wanted to spend that much time in my sweltering kitchen. I didn’t.

I sure wanted that soufflé, though, so I made a down and dirty version in a skillet. No cooked white sauce. No buttered soufflé dish. Just a bowl in which to beat the eggs and a skillet to sauté the mushrooms and bake the soufflé in, too.

I found a recipe for a lemon skillet soufflé (just Google “lemon skillet soufflé”) and riffed on that. The original was from the Cook’s magazine folks. I changed almost all of the ingredients except the eggs, and borrowed the technique of beating the soufflé base rather than cooking it. It worked pretty good, although a dessert soufflé made in this manner would probably rise higher than my mushroom-laden one.

A reader asked me this week about the difference between my crustless quiche of a few weeks ago and a frittata. This mushroom soufflé further muddies the waters. All of them are similar, although the frittata is much more eggy and the soufflé is puffier.

Basically, a frittata is an unfolded omelet with the filling ingredients mixed right into the eggs. It can be cooked on the stove or in the oven. A quiche usually is a custard base (eggs and milk) to which lots of cheese is added. My crustless quiche skips the milk in the custard base and uses cottage cheese as the dairy. It’s not a true quiche, but the cottage cheese disqualifies it as a frittata. A soufflé is a custard base made with just the yolks, to which beaten whites are added.

None of this matters. What’s important is whether it tastes good, and Tony gave the mushroom skillet soufflé a big thumbs up. The flavor of the mushrooms was enhanced with finely chopped sage and thyme from my herb garden. Chives and rosemary would complement the mushrooms, too.

When the local corn finally ripens I’ll sub a cup of sautéed kernels for the mushrooms (it won’t be long — I hear the corn is starting to tassel this week) and use basil for the herb. Until then, some strange-delicious mushrooms will do.

This airy soufflé and a salad make a great, light dinner on a sizzling summer night. One-fourth of the soufflé — a big, big hunk — has just 198 calories.

MUSHROOM SKILLET SOUFFLE

5 eggs
2 tbsp. butter
6 oz. mushrooms (any variety), diced to 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced fresh sage
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a mixer and the yolks in a custard cup. Make sure no speck of yolk contaminates the whites (to be safe, separate each white into a custard cup before pouring one at a time into the mixer bowl).

Melt butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. Sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic over medium heat until vegetables are softened and mushrooms are golden brown. If the mushrooms give off moisture, turn up the heat to evaporate the moisture. Remove from heat and stir in salt and herbs.

Arrange oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat whites on medium-low speed until frothy. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites are stiff and glossy. Scrape whites into another bowl.

In the same mixer bowl (no need to wash) beat yolks on high speed until thickened and light yellow, at least 1 minute. Beat in milk, then flour and cheese. Stir in mushroom mixture.

Return skillet (without washing) to medium-low heat. Stir and fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the yolk mixture until barely a trace of the whites remain. Gently fold remaining whites into the yolk mixture, scraping bottom of bowl to incorporate all of the mushrooms and yolks.

Pour soufflé mixture into warm skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat. Place skillet on middle rack in a 375-degree oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until top is puffy and golden and center is almost set. Serve immediately. Makes 4 large servings at 198 calories each.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Venison spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese baked in a spaghetti squash half; a turkey burger and sugar-free ice cream soda; grill-smoked thick, bone-in rib steak (tomahawk) with horseradish sauce and grilled vegetables with sesame-ginger dressing; black raspberry galette; marinated roast pork tenderloin, buttered corn on the cob; wilted spinach and fried egg on toast; grilled ribeye steaks, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with olive oil, sea salt and chopped basil; kung pao chicken over rice; another wilted spinach and fried egg on toast.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Half of a spicy Thai salad, an apple and iced coffee at Panera; half of a chicken teriyaki sub at Subway; popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; half of a Subway ham and Swiss; half of a pulled pork sandwich from Showcase Meats in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
This recipe is a throwback to your crustless quiche. I make egg muffins often. They’re good hot, cold or slightly warmed, alone or on a bed of arugula topped with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of pecorino Romano cheese.

I make them when I need to watch my calorie intake or when I know I’m going to be very busy. They pack easily. They’re great for a road trip. I usually have plenty of vegetables at home but when I’m in a hurry, I grab a small amount of carrots, peas, scallions, broccoli, peppers and whatever looks good from a salad bar at a grocery store.

EGG MUFFINS
9 eggs
Scant 1/4 cup milk
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
Crank or two of pepper

Filler:
Any combination of finely chopped fresh vegetables
Romano, Cheddar, low-moisture mozzarella or any shredded cheese
Cubed ham, crumbled bacon, shredded chicken, chopped steak

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray or butter.

In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream of tartar, salt and pepper. Arrange any combination of fillers in each muffin cup. Do not fill more than halfway.

Pour egg mixture into each muffin cup, filling no more than three-fourths full. Mixture will puff in oven. Bake at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes. Eggs are ready when the edges begin to brown.

Let cool in pan. Run a knife around edges of muffins and remove from tin. Eat immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 5 days. Makes 12.

Dear Martha,
I love this idea. Tony and I are getting ready for a road trip with our camper. I’ll definitely take some of these along. Thanks!

From Pat S.:
Hi Jane. I have been seeing a range of Hasselback recipes. The baked potatoes are excellent and the sweet potato version looks awesome. I’m now seeing the technique used on baked chicken breasts, Caprese and fajita styles. I think the combinations are endless. These are oven-bake recipes, but I’m thinking the chicken could be grilled as well, making it an easy, quick summer meal. And very good when we have so much fresh produce and herbs in season. Do you have thoughts on this method and its versatility?

Dear Pat,
I think “Hasselback” is almost as much fun to say as “spatchcock.” Remember a couple of summers ago when we were spatchcocking our brains out? Seriously, I think that’s why “Hasselback” is having a moment — it’s fun to say.

Fun aside, the technique of slicing something almost but not quite through and stuffing the crevices (or not stuffing, as in the original version of Hasselback potatoes) is an interesting way to present food. If you stuff, you’ll want to make sure the stuffing and encasing food roast at the same speed. In other words, no potato stuffed with seafood. Otherwise, this is a visually exciting way to dress up dinner.
If you grill the chicken, I would slice it and stuff it after cooking to prevent the chicken from drying out. Send me your favorite Hasselback recipe! I want to play, too.

FYI, Hasselback potatoes were named after Restaurant Hasselbacken in Stockholm, Sweden, where they were invented.

July 3, 2019

Dear friends,
I have an old, slim, tattered Szechuan cookbook from 1982 that I burned the back cover from when I set it on an electric burner eons ago. The paperback, “Szechwan & Northern Cooking: From Hot to Cold,” was written by Rhonda Yee. It has survived four moves and a Marie Kondo-style cleansing.

Every few years the book gets buried in the basement or pushed to the back of a bookshelf and I forget about it. A few years later I find it, consider tossing out the poor, charred little thing, but instead hang onto it. On the rare occasions I crack open the book, I’m glad I did. The sauce recipes are extraordinary.

When I found the book on my shelf last weekend, it was the culinary equivalent of a letter from my youth. I remember making recipes from the book in the early days of my career as a food writer. I paged through the book, encountering my penciled-in annotations from the past.

The most exciting moment is when I found my favorite recipe for kung pao chicken, which I thought I had lost. Tony is a kung pao fanatic, but I keep telling him the pallid versions he gets in restaurants can’t compare to the one I would make if only I could find my recipe. I will wow him with this superior version this week.

But I had a sirloin steak, not chicken, in the fridge last weekend, so I improvised with the ingredients on hand and a couple of Yee’s sauces. I’ll tell you straight up that her salad dressing recipe, reprinted below, should be made by the gallon and kept in your refrigerator at all times. It is luscious. I’m going to use the leftovers all week on roasted vegetables.

I marinated the steak, grilled it and sliced it. I tossed it with romaine lettuce, sliced scallions and Yee’s lip-licking dressing. Rice sticks and peanuts provided the crunch.

Filament-like rice sticks can be found in Asian stores and some supermarkets. They are usually coiled into nests. For this recipe, the strands are teased apart and dropped into very hot oil, which puffs them dramatically. With the weather we’ve been having, I wouldn’t blame you if you used packaged chow mein noodles instead. The salad will still taste great.

CRUNCHY SZECHUAN BEEF SALAD

Marinade:
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. black bean garlic sauce
1 tsp. sugar

Dressing:
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. Szechuan chili oil

Salad:
1 lb. top sirloin or flatiron steak, trimmed of fat and gristle
1 oz. very thin rice sticks or 2 cups chow mein noodles
Oil for frying (if using rice sticks)
Salt
4 to 6 cups chopped romain lettuce
4 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely crushed dry-roasted peanuts

Combine marinade ingredients in a custard cup. Slather on both sides of steak. Place on a plate, cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

Combine dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well. Set aside.

If using rice sticks, separate the strands over a bowl to catch the pieces. The filaments should be separated and broken into pieces but not crushed. Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a heavy, wide skillet. The oil should be very hot. Test it by dropping a strand of rice stick into the oil. It should immediately puff up. Scatter a handful at a time in the oil, turning over with tongs as soon as they puff, and removing from the oil as soon as the other side has puffed. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Remove steak from marinade and grill over hot coals to desired degree of doneness. Let rest off the heat for 10 minutes, then slice across the grain into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1 1/2-inch lengths.

Just before serving, place chopped romaine in a very large bowl. Add scallions and all but 2 tablespoons of the peanuts. Toss with half the dressing. Add the beef strips and toss again, adding more dressing if necessary. Add all but a handful of the rice sticks or chow mein noodles and salt to taste; toss. Mound on a platter. Drizzle with a bit more dressing. Garnish with remaining peanuts and rice sticks. Makes 4 large servings.

Note: Refrigerate the delicious leftover dressing and drizzle over cooked vegetables or salads.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
A crustless tomato quiche; roast carrots, bell peppers and zucchini; a crunchy Szechuan beef salad.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Thai chicken curry with chopped peanuts at Basil Asian Bistro in Wooster; half of a ham and cheese sub from Subway; edamame, a California roll, Tony’s Mussels and a Bud Light at Sushi Katsu in Akron; sugar-free coffee frozen yogurt at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt; marinated grilled chicken and beef, grilled kefta, kibbee, tabbouli and baba ganoush from Falls Mediterranean Market & Grill in Cuyahoga Falls; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; samosa, corn salad, bahn mi and watermelon at the Project Learn picnic in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Maria M.:
I have quite a bit of zucchini from last year’s garden that I partially blanched and froze last year. They are in slices and half slices. How do you recommend using them? I know I can drop them frozen into soup such as minestrone but this is definitely not soup weather! I’m always uncertain as to whether or not I should thaw the zucchini before using it in a recipe or leave it frozen. Any recipe suggestions would be helpful and appreciated.

Dear Maria:
Zucchini is one of the few vegetables I would never freeze. Because of its high water content, it becomes beyond mushy when thawed. A lot of people do freeze zucchini, though. Unless you use it in soup or stew, you should thaw the zucchini and drain it well before using. You might even want to squeeze it dry.

Many people who freeze zucchini shred it first for use in baked goods such as zucchini bread. Since you didn’t do that, I would forget about baked goods and instead sneak it into meatloaf, spaghetti sauce and smoothies. You could try stir frying it, but be prepared for some splatters when the moisture in the zucchini meets the hot fat.

This year, pick them small — 6 inches or less — and eat ‘em up.

From Mary:
Jane, your couscous salad was delicious! We had fresh salmon I baked and the salad with it was just so good. Thanks for the recipe. It was awesome.

Dear Mary:
I love when I hear that one of my recipes was made and enjoyed. Thanks for writing.

From Linda C.:
This vegan loves your couscous salad recipe. I love roasting veggies. The large pearl couscous is a great texture change. I’m experimenting with different grains. We love farro and freekeh. Tef was a wonderful change as a breakfast grain, too.

Thanks for your continued flavor combinations and great food advice.

Dear Linda:
Tef, eh? That is one I haven’t tried. Thanks for the suggestion.

June 26,2019

Dear friends,
Authentic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not always, anyway. Do you ever read about a country’s food, imagine it in your mind, and then feel a bit let down when you actually taste it?

I do that all the time. Korean and native American food come to mind. If only there were a teensy bit less fermented gunk, or the mutton stew was made instead with lamb…..

I felt that way the first time I tasted a Moroccan tagine. The seasonings in the stew were kind of brilliant but the vegetables were sooo limp. Wrung out. Tasteless. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat tagine every chance I get and even bought a tagine cooker (it looks like an upside-down funnel). But wouldn’t it taste better if the vegetables were roasted to concentrate their flavors? And how about using that big-pearl couscous instead of the fine-grained stuff?

I haven’t bastardized a tagine to that extent yet, but I did take the elements and seasonings (one version of the seasonings; there are many) and combine them in a side dish/salad. Serve it warm or cold for my American take on a Moroccan classic.

Not to insult the entire country of Morocco or anything, but this is the kind of dish you’ll eat with a spoon, standing in front of the refrigerator, at 11 at night. It’s that good.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES, ALMONDS AND RAISINS

1 bell pepper, cleaned and halved lengthwise
1 zucchini, about 8 inches long, halved lengthwise
1 Chinese eggplant, about 8 to 10 inches long, halved lengthwise
2/3 cup Israeli (large pearl) couscous
1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup raisins

Dressing:
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
Salt, pepper

Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray or lightly grease with olive oil. Place pepper, zucchini and eggplant on sheet and spray or lightly coat with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not mushy. The roasting time will depend on the thickness of the vegetables.

Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package directions. While it cooks, heat a heavy, medium-size skillet over high heat. Toast almonds in the skillet until light brown on the edges, stirring frequently. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in same skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions until softened but not brown. Scrape onions and oil in skillet into a medium-large serving bowl. When the couscous is done, stir into the onions and oil in the bowl.

Pour hot water over the raisins in a small bowl and set aside.

In a lidded jar, combine dressing ingredients and shake well. When vegetables are done, cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in the bowl with the couscous and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Drain raisins and stir into the couscous with the toasted almonds. Shake dressing again. Pour over salad and stir well.

Serve warm or cold. Makes about 6 servings.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Genghis Khan (marinated, grilled thin-sliced lamb) over cauliflower rice with pan-grilled carrots, sugar-snap peas, onions and oyster mushrooms; baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta; roast pork tenderloin and couscous with roasted vegetables, almonds and raisins; baked potato and filet mignon cooked in and grilled over a backyard campfire.

What I ate out:
Chicken gyro at Continental Cuisine in Fairlawn; small popcorn, no butter at Regal Cinema; pancetta, lettuce and tomato flatbread sandwich, drip coffee at Cafe Arnone in Fairlawn; juicy, lemony grilled pork tenderloin, couscous salad with mushrooms, shaved Parmesan and truffle oil, and chunky vegetable salad at my friend Marty’s house; barbecued baby back ribs, kale slaw and homemade potato chips at Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron; Caesar salad with grilled chicken at Mustard Seed Market in Highland Square; homemade tortilla chips with salsa, and tacos with carnitas and cactus salad at Taqueria Rancheros in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From me:
Thanks to those who wrote to commiserate about the weather, comment on past recipes (the crustless quiche was a hit) or just to say “Hi.” I no longer feel ignored.

I still don’t have mail to share, though, so I’m passing along a recipe from my friend, Joan Welsh, who brought the yummy dish to a gathering. Four of us meet once a month or so to laugh and, basically, eat. I know many of you have similar get-togethers. I’d love to have the recipe for the latest dish you’ve shared with YOUR friends.

Joan’s dish was heady with the aroma (and flavor) of truffles — no doubt because she used good truffle oil. She bought the oil at TruffleHunter on the Internet, she said.

ISRAELI COUSCOUS WITH MUSHROOMS AND LEMON TRUFFLE VINAIGRETTE
1 lb. assorted mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt, pepper
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shaved parmesan
1/4 cup vinaigrette

Truffle Vinaigrette:

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white truffle-infused olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake well.

Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until done.

Place couscous in a large frying pan and toast over medium heat. When the couscous starts to brown, add broth, cover and simmer according to package directions until cooked.

In a bowl combine room-temperature mushrooms and couscous. Shake dressing well, add 1/4 cup and toss. Add salt and pepper if needed. Top with shaved Parmesan just before serving.